Ambrose Bierce

(24 June 1842 - 26 December 1913 / Horse Cave Creek, Ohio)

The Birth Of The Rail - Poem by Ambrose Bierce

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

LELAND, THE KID _a Road Agent_
COWBOY CHARLEY _Same Line of Business_
HAPPY HUNTY _Ditto in All Respects_
SOOTYMUG _a Devil_

_Scene_-the Dutch Flat Stage Road, at 12 P.M., on a Night
of 1864.


COWBOY CHARLEY:

My boss, I fear she is delayed to-night.
Already it is past the hour, and yet
My ears have reached no sound of wheels; no note
Melodious, of long, luxurious oaths
Betokens the traditional dispute
(Unsettled from the dawn of time) between
The driver and off wheeler; no clear chant
Nor carol of Wells Fargo's messenger
Unbosoming his soul upon the air
his prowess to the tender-foot,
And how at divers times in sundry ways
He strewed the roadside with our carcasses.
Clearly, the stage will not come by to-night.

LELAND, THE KID:

I now remember that but yesterday
I saw three ugly looking fellows start
From Colfax with a gun apiece, and they
Did seem on business of importance bent.
Furtively casting all their eyes about
And covering their tracks with all the care
That business men do use. I think perhaps
They were Directors of that rival line,
The great Pacific Mail. If so, they have
Indubitably taken in that coach,
And we are overreached. Three times before
This thing has happened, and if once again
These outside operators dare to cut
Our rates of profit I shall quit the road
And take my money out of this concern.
When robbery no longer pays expense
It loses then its chiefest charm for me,
And I prefer to cheat-you hear me shout!

HAPPY HUNTY:

My chief, you do but echo back my thoughts:
This competition is the death of trade.
'Tis plain (unless we wish to go to work)
Some other business we must early find.
What shall it be? The field of usefulness
Is yearly narrowing with the advance
Of wealth and population on this coast.
There's little left that any man can do
Without some other fellow stepping in
And doing it as well. If one essay
To pick a pocket he is sure to feel
(With what disgust I need not say to you)
Another hand inserted in the same.
You crack a crib at dead of night, and lo!
As you explore the dining-room for plate
You find, in session there, a graceless band
Stuffing their coats with spoons, their skins with wine.
And so it goes. Why even undertake
To salt a mine and you will find it rich
With noble specimens placed there before!

LELAND, THE KID:

And yet this line of immigration has
Advantages superior to aught
That elsewhere offers: all these passengers,
If punched with care-

COWBOY CHARLEY:

Significant remark!
It opens up a prospect wide and fair,
Suggesting to the thoughtful mind-_my_ mind-
A scheme that is the boss lay-out. Instead
Of stopping passengers, let's carry them.
Instead of crying out: 'Throw up your hands!'
Let's say: 'Walk up and buy a ticket!' Why
Should we unwieldy goods and bullion take,
Watches and all such trifles, when we might
Far better charge their value three times o'er
For carrying them to market?

LELAND, THE KID:

Put it there,
Old son!

HAPPY HUNTY:

You take the cake, my dear. We'll build
A mighty railroad through this pass, and then
The stage folk will come up to us and squeal,
And say: 'It is bad medicine for both:
What will you give or take?' And then we'll sell.

COWBOY CHARLEY:

Enlarge your notions, little one; this is
No petty, slouching, opposition scheme,
To be bought off like honest men and fools;
Mine eye prophetic pierces through the mists
That cloud the future, and I seem to see
A well-devised and executed scheme
Of wholesale robbery within the law
(Made by ourselves)-great, permanent, sublime,
And strong to grapple with the public throat-
Shaking the stuffing from the public purse,
The tears from bankrupt merchants' eyes, the blood
From widows' famished carcasses, the bread
From orphans' mouths!

HAPPY HUNTY:

Hooray!

LELAND, THE; KID:

Hooray!

ALL:

Hooray!

_(They tear the masks from their faces, and discharging their
shotguns, throw them into the chapparal. Then they join hands,
dance and sing the following song:)_

Ah! blessed to measure
The glittering treasure!
Ah! blessed to heap up the gold
Untold
That flows in a wide
And deepening tide-
Rolled, rolled, rolled
From multifold sources,
Converging its courses
Upon our-

LELAND, THE KID:

Just wait a bit, my pards, I thought I heard
A sneaking grizzly cracking the dry twigs.
Such an intrusion might deprive the State
Of all the good that we intend it. Ha!

_(Enter Sootymug. He saunters carelessly in and gracefully
leans his back against a redwood.)_

SOOTYMUG:

My boys, I thought I heard
Some careless revelry,
As if your minds were stirred
By some new devilry.
I too am in that line. Indeed, the mission
On which I come-

HAPPY HUNTY:

Here's more damned competition!
_(Curtain.)_


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, September 27, 2012



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